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Schreiber Alum Wins MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award

Now a Stanford University professor, David Lobell says Port Washington schools ‘prepared me well.’

David Lobell, who grew up in Port Washington, won a MacArthur "Genius" award. Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
David Lobell, who grew up in Port Washington, won a MacArthur "Genius" award. Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

A professor at Stanford University who was educated in Port Washington Public Schools was among the 24 recipients of the $625,000 “genius awards” announced Wednesday.

The winners are tops in their fields and include scientists, musicians, writers, historians and more. They include David Lobell, 34, a 1996 Schreiber High School graduate. Lobell is now an agricultural ecologist who heads the Lobell Laboratory at the school of Earth Sciences at Stanford University, where he is an associate professor and also associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, a joint project of the Freeman Spogli Institute and Woods Institute for the Environment.

Lobell was recognized for his research on the effects of climate change on crop production and food security around the world, drawing insights from data sets on weather, agricultural practices, soil and water.

“This award does give you a freedom that even a university job might not give you,” Lobell said in an interview on the MacArthur Foundation website. “”I’m still thinking through that and I’m trying to really understand what I can do and what would really make me more creative and doing more important work that I couldn’t do before.”

Winners of the award receive a five-year  "no strings attached" grant for demonstrating  exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future, according to the MacArthur Foundation.

Lobell, whose mother Nancy Lobell taught locally for many years at Weber Middle School, noted that his education in Port Washington provided a solid foundation for his work as a scientist.

“I think the schools there prepared me well, especially the fact that from an early age I had teachers who challenged me,” Lobell told Patch. “Like Mrs. Leonard in third grade giving me a special unit about fractions. And Mrs. Labrocca and the math research program in high school certainly gave me a nice introduction to doing research.”

“I could go on about various good teachers I had, which is an indication of how fortunate I was to go to good public schools,” he added. 

As for future budding scientists in Port Washington, he stressed the importance of creativity.

“I think it's good for students to understand that even math and science require creativity, and that they can't be afraid of failure,” Lobell said. “When I was a kid I would have been surprised to know that being a professional scientist is probably as much like being an artist as being an accountant.”

Lobell earned his Bachelor’s Degree in 2000 at Brown University, where he studied applied mathematics, and a PhD in 2005 from Stanford University. He was a postdoctoral fellow from 2005-07 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Learn more about the MacArthur "genius" award," and David Lobell. 

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